Back in the fall, I celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the first ever comic books I read with a two part recounting of “The Death of Superman” storyline. Now as we have hit the two decade mark on the “Return” aspect of “The Death and Return Superman” series, I figured that I would break down the comics that fully got me hooked: “The Reign of the Supermen.” This is that story as best as I can remember it, which means this will all be incredibly meandering and not entirely accurate.
After Superman died, there was an eight-issue series called “Funeral for a Friend” which dealt with the aftermath of Doomsday and, yes, Superman’s funeral. It was fairly well told and gave the opportunity for all the major DC players to say farewell to Big Blue. There was also an attempt to steal Superman’s body. Finally, the last thing that happened in “Funeral” was a despondent Pa Kent having a heart attack and flat-lining as a distraught Martha Kent reaches out to her dying husband.
This was the last thing we saw before the comics went on a two-month hiatus.
In retrospect, it was pretty harsh.
When we come back. Jonathan Kent is in the haze between the here and the hereafter, the limbo between earth and heaven. It’s kind of like C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce but with more punching and less theological ruminating.
Pa does not yet know he is in this netherworld. Instead, he thinks that he is back fighting with the U.S. Army in Korea and he’s talking with his buddy as they patrol. Everything seems alright until his buddy basically tells him to give up on the land of the living. Then he turns into some sort of demon goblin with a bajillion teeth. Thus Pa Kent punches the haze monster in the face because, listen, you do not mess with Jonathan Kent.
Pa figures out that he’s in some sort of land between the living and the dead when he comes across a Kryptonian funeral procession. Who is the Kryptonian for whose funeral they are processing? Why it is none other than Jonathan’s son Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman. Kal is passively going towards the land of the non-living, of which nonsense Pa is not having any. Jonathan can see what Clark cannot. These “Kryptonians” are actually haze monsters also.
Despite the fact, that Jonathan raised Clark and instilled an incredibly strong moral fiber in the boy, Clark doesn’t believe his dad. Why? I don’t know. He’s been dead longer? Not helping matters, a blue guy that I think was called Cleric comes up to Superman and basically says, “Dude, your old man is wrong. We’re cool.” Clark says something doesn’t seem right and realizes that Cleric is a demon goblin. And he punches him.
Suddenly a melee ensues in which Jonathan and Clark Kent fight side by side against the ghost spawn trying to keep Superman from returning to earth and doing super-things. Just when it looks like a haze monster is about to take out Clark, Pa delivers the knockout blow with a shovel that literally appears out of nowhere.
After winning Tag Team Championship Belt in Netherworld Wrestling, father and son head towards a spooky, dark, swirly hole that Pa believes will return them to life. I guess this is opposite of going towards the light. Clark is unsure, but his dad tells him to trust him.
Jonathan then wakes up in the hospital and tells everyone that Clark is alive. Naturally, everyone thinks that he is delirious from his brush with death. Lois, who came to Smallville to comfort the Kents, has to return home because her would-be-father-in-law can’t stop talking about how her dead fiancé is actually alive.
And then the sightings begin.
First there are a few generic ones. We hear mysterious reports here and there. Lois sees a red and blue blur zoom past her plane, but rationally assumes it could be any of the litany of superpowered beings in the DC Universe.
A young boy is taking in the sights of Metropolis with his family. Silently we see his excitement as they venture around. Then they come to the plaque in front of the Daily Planet that marks the spot where Superman dies and they become sad. Then someone flies in, rips the plaque up out the ground, and burns it with heat vision. Seems kind of disrespectful, but they notice he looks kind of like Superman. Someone asks, “Are you?” We then see that the other part of this guy is robot. The re-bulit Superman(?) replies, “Yes, I’m back.” And triumphantly flies away.
A gang war erupts and one side has these ultra-advanced weapons called Toastmasters. When the cops come, the gang members scatter. Suddenly, a large behemoth of a man emerges from the rubble from Superman’s final battle and mutters that he must stop Doomsday.
Someone is trying to break out of Project Cadmus, the HQ of the guys that stole Superman’s body a few issues back. The guards with the laser guns are pew pewing at this mysterious figure. Fortunately, the Newsboys Legion (basically they dress like Newsies and they are a legion) are there to help the person out. Finally they escape and bust through a sewer grate. Mysterious person thanks the Newsies and one of them (not Christian Bale) responds, “Hey, no problem Superbo…” Before he can finish, the unknown person snaps, “Hey! Don’t ever call me Superboy!” And we see that the mystery figure looks like a teenage Superman, only if you injected him with metric ton of 90s attitude.
A bad guy is trying to mug a woman in an alleyway with a gun. Suddenly, silhouetted by lightning, comes a scary looking dude. It plays out like a generic Batman scene. Bad guy is suddenly fleeing in terror from the figure in the shadows. Suddenly, the criminal is zapped by lightning from his pursuer’s hands. We then see that the Zapper looks like Superman but he is wearing a yellow visor, his cape is attached to his S shield, and there is black paneling on his costume. He monologues about how the evil shall know the vengeance of Superman.
Thus is the beginning of “Reign of the Supermen.” We know Superman is back from the dead, but we have four individuals that we believe are vying for the title. Now, ten year old Chris was not fooled by rubble guy and not-Superboy. The former was a big African-American guy and the the latter was obviously a teenager. What did they take me for? A seven year old? (My apologies to all seven year olds)
Yet I was sure one of the other two was the real Man of Steel. The story was just going to be about getting them back to normalcy. If the real Superman was the dude that shot lightning out his hands, he would have to learn what it meant to Superman and stop being all vengeance of the night-like. And hey! Sweet new power with the lightning.
And if it was the cyborg guy (which seemed more likely because he wasn’t electrocuting people), then, well, I guessed they could give him some synthetic skin to cover up the robot parts. I felt like being half robot impeded his pending wedding with Lois and so that needed to be addressed.
So who was the real Superman? What role do the two obvious non-Supermen play in all of this? And how does this all end up catastrophically bad for a major superhero that hasn’t even been mentioned? Tune in later this week for Part 2 of my probably inaccurate recollection of 1993’s “Reign of the Supermen.”